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Leistikow's 6 thoughts from Iowa's win at Maryland, including Connor McCaffery welcoming disrespect


Chad Leistikow   | Hawk Central

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — There are a ton of layers to unpack from Iowa’s 89-67 rout of Maryland on Thursday night.

There was Luka Garza’s victorious homecoming. There was Connor McCaffery’s remarkable return. There was Jordan Bohannon’s rekindled love for the Terrapins’ home floor. 

But let’s begin with what happened two hours before the Hawkeyes improved to 10-2 overall, 4-1 in Big Ten Conference play.

Players, coaches and even referees took a knee before tip-off in a brief but powerful moment.

“Taking a knee” has become a way to protest police violence and raise awareness of racism in America, and Wednesday’s alarming events in Washington, D.C. — where a mob of rioters charged into the U.S. Capitol largely unimpeded by law enforcement — had players in the Iowa-Maryland game, taking place just 16 miles away, wanting to send a message of their own.

Here’s how it transpired. Maryland senior Darryl Morsell had texted Iowa senior Jordan Bohannon about the idea, and Bohannon ran it by the Hawkeye players. They agreed to join the Terrapins in taking a knee just before the 7:01 p.m. EST tip-off.

“I thought it was really powerful and important,” Bohannon said afterward.

Iowa 11th-year coach Fran McCaffery is outspoken when it comes to social-justice issues. He called Wednesday’s events “reprehensible” but expressed confidence that change is coming.

“After a while, you get tired of kneeling and you get tired of talking about it. What happened (Wednesday) just can’t happen in our country,” McCaffery said. “One of the things we always talk about is that at least we (need to) have conversation. And conversation has to turn into action. Fortunately, more and more people are recognizing the changes that have to take place. We all wish it would take place quicker. But it’s going to take place. It’s going to happen."

Connor McCaffery sends opponents a message: Sag off me at your own risk.

Some of Iowa’s opponents — including Maryland on Thursday — have decided to intentionally leave McCaffery wide open behind the 3-point line, where he entered Thursday as a 20% shooter.

Good, the fourth-year junior said after having his best statistical line of the season: six points, five rebounds, a career-high 10 assists, zero turnovers.

“They were disrespecting me pretty heavily,” McCaffery said. “When they’re off me like that, I really like it. That’s why I had 10 assists and no turns. I don’t think it’s a great game plan at all, to be honest with you. I can make the perfect pass. I just wait until guys are in a perfect position, then I just load people up. If they’re going to play that game plan, all I’m going to do is load people up.”

Garza is cool with that, too. He’s often the recipient of McCaffery’s entry feeds into the post. The two were scheming Wednesday night in their hotel about ways they could take advantage of Maryland’s defense.

“He’s the best post-entry passer I’ve ever played with,” Garza said. “He makes the job easy for me. He’s patient, he waits for me (to work open).”

The fact that McCaffery played was somewhat of a surprise. He was questionable after spraining an ankle early against Rutgers on Saturday. But after three days of rest, he was able to practice Wednesday and played 26 effective minutes Thursday. He even hit a season-high two 3-pointers; the first ignited a torrid 20-0 Iowa run in the first half.

“It was great to have him out there,” Fran McCaffery said. “I’m so proud of him.”

It was a good night to be a McCaffery. This was also Patrick McCaffery’s best game against a significant opponent: 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting, three rebounds and lots of activity. In six previous games against the Big Ten, North Carolina and Gonzaga … McCaffery had scored a total of 14 points. He’s ascending.

There’s something about Maryland and Bohannon …

Until Thursday, Bohannon was the only Hawkeye who had won at Maryland. When he was a true freshman in February 2017, the Marion native rained in eight 3-pointers on 10 attempts in a surprising 83-69 win at the Xfinity Center. A year later, he somewhat quietly made 5-of-10 from 3 in a 91-73 loss that was remembered for Fran McCaffery’s second-half ejection.

But he hadn’t shot a ball here in exactly three years. Iowa didn’t play at Maryland in 2019, and he was out after hip surgery for the 2020 game. I took notice during pregame that Bohannon was lining up at the “M” at mid-court and shooting effortless 3s ... and swishing them. He clearly feels comfortable here.

Bohannon sank 6-of-9 attempts from 3-point range Thursday — bringing his career accuracy here to an incredible 19-for-29 (65.5%) — for 18 points. Five of his 3s came in the second half. His marksmanship helped stave off any hope of a Maryland rally.

“I wasn’t getting a lot of looks in the first half,” Bohannon said. “My guys just kept telling me to get open and they’re going to find me. I got a couple transition 3s and then just got off and running in the second half.”

A few other notes about Bohannon’s hot shots. He’s now 15-for-23 from 3 in three games since ditching the shooting sleeve on his right arm before the Northwestern game. And Iowa is 7-0 in games that he makes multiple 3s. 

If by chance Bohannon does come back for a sixth year at Iowa, Maryland better hope it doesn’t host the Hawkeyes in 2022.

While Garza’s homecoming didn’t go exactly according to plans, he got the win.

Garza was planning to get together with his family that lives in northern Virginia — father, mother and sister — but Wednesday’s events forced early curfews around the region. That meant that Garza couldn’t hug his mom for the first time in a long time.

Still, Garza said, that was secondary to his primary mission in visiting his hometown region. He was here to win. The 2017 Washington, D.C., Gatorade Player of the Year finished with 24 points, seven rebounds and four assists Thursday. So many different Hawkeyes were contributing Thursday that Garza’s services weren’t needed late. He didn’t play the final 6:17 after Iowa’s lead ballooned to 78-52.

Garza lost here as a freshman and junior. Not as a senior. And it did mean a lot to him, considering Maryland never recruited him.

“It took me three tries,” Garza said.  “… I’m excited I was finally able to get it done here and bring one home for the DMV.”

Don’t fret about the minutes distribution; the results are evident.

Even after the win, I heard from fans that were upset that Keegan Murray (12 points, five rebounds, 20:46 of playing time) wasn’t on the court more often. I understand the sentiment — Murray contributes in lots of ways when he’s out there and was a team-best plus-30 — but I don’t understand complaining after a 22-point road win.

Here’s the deal: McCaffery sat CJ Fredrick and Joe Wieskamp for most of the first half after uninspiring defense. To start the second half, he intentionally let the starters ride for a longer time that usual. No. 1, they were fresher. No. 2, it didn’t hurt to reassure them that they’re still among the primary catalysts of this top-10 team with high hopes. After Fredrick assisted a Bohannon 3 and Wieskamp stormed in for a dunk, Iowa’s lead was 66-41 with 11:50 to go.

We know Fredrick and Wieskamp are terrific players. We also were reassured Thursday that there’s plenty of bench backup. This is all good news for the Hawkeyes going forward.

A parting thought from College Park …

After back-to-back solid road wins, Iowa gets four of its next five at home. And you’d better believe the Hawkeyes will be locked in for Sunday’s 1:30 p.m. date with Minnesota. The Gophers are the only Big Ten team that’s beaten them, a 102-95 overtime decision on Dec. 25 when Iowa blew a seven-point lead in the final 37 seconds of regulation.

“That’s definitely a game we’ve marked on the calendar,” Bohannon said. “… We thought we had them at their place, and we let it slip away. We got a lot of energy coming into this game. We need to keep fighting if we’re going to have the season we want to have."

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.